Laura Empson, Professor, Bayes Business School
Our paper investigates the dynamic interplay of narratives of individual and collective leadership within a professional service firm, where an organisational narrative of collective leadership prevails. We explain how it is possible for ‘everyone’ to claim a leadership identity for themselves while simultaneously granting a leadership identity to the collective. We identify multiple leadership archetypes embedded in individuals’ identity narratives, representing their differing senses of themselves as leaders and their alignment with the organisational narrative of collective leadership. These archetypes are mutually constitutive, representing centripetal and centrifugal tendencies in relation to the organisational narrative of collective leadership. We show how individuals committed to collective leadership nevertheless construct an individual leader (the Avatar identity archetype) to embody the collective on their behalf, and this enables them to grant leadership to the collective in the abstract. We emphasise the persistent sacralisation of leadership in individual and organisational narratives, even in avowedly collectivist contexts, and the value of narrative-based perspectives in highlighting practitioners’ ability to navigate and accommodate the messy coexistence of collective and individual leadership. Our study shows the importance of integrating dialectically the individual and collective dimensions of leadership, emphasising the mutually constitutive nature of individual and collective leadership narratives.
Laura Empson is Professor in the Management of Professional Service Firms at Bayes Business School (formerly Cass), University of London, and Senior Research Fellow at Harvard Law School. She is currently Head of Group (Organisational Behaviour/HRM) at Bayes, Founding Director of the Centre for Professional Service Firms, and a founder member of the Strategic Advisory Board of the Journal of Management Studies.
With a focus on professionals and professional service firms, her research is primarily concerned with themes of leadership, governance, organisational and identity change, in a variety of manifestations. She has also published a series of autoethnographic studies exploring the research-practice divide. Her research has been funded by a series of grants from the Economic and Social Research Council of Great Britain, and the European Union. In addition to publishing dozens of articles in leading international journals, she has published three books with Oxford University Press, most recently Leading Professionals: Power, Politics, and Prima Donnas (2022).
She is committed to translating her academic research for a practitioner audience, via a series of Harvard Business Review articles, her BBC documentary, and highly influential podcast series, “Leading Professional People”. In recognition of her research in the area of leadership, in 2019 she was shortlisted for the Thinkers 50 Leadership award. She served as an Independent Non-Executive Director on the Board of KPMG UK from 2013 to 2016 and continues to advise the UK government and many of the world’s leading professional organisations.
Before joining Bayes (formerly Cass) she was an Associate Professor at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. She has a PhD from London Business School.
For more information, please contact Emily Brown.